(HealthDay News) – Even relatively small doses of sleeping pills are associated with a more than three-fold higher risk of death, according to a study published online Feb. 27 in BMJ Open.

Daniel F. Kripke, MD, from the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center in La Jolla, CA, and colleagues analyzed data on mortality from 10,529 patients who were prescribed a range of sleeping pills, and 23,676 matched controls who did not take sleeping pills. Subjects were an average of 54 years old.

After an average of 2.5 years, and after adjusting for a possible confounding factors, the researchers found that the risk of death increased with increasing doses of drug. The hazard ratios were 3.6 for 0.4–18 doses a year, 4.43 for 18–132 doses a year, and 5.32 for >132 doses a year. The highest dose was also associated with an increased risk of cancer (hazard ratio, 1.35).

“Receiving hypnotic prescriptions was associated with greater than three-fold increased hazards of death even when prescribed <18 pills/year,” Kripke and colleagues conclude. “This association held in separate analyses for several commonly used hypnotics and for newer shorter-acting drugs.”

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